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Douglas, R. Langton

    Image Credit: Douglas History

    Full Name: Douglas, R. Langton

    Other Names:

    • Robert Langton Douglas

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 01 March 1864

    Date Died: 1951

    Place Born: Davenham, Cheshire, UK

    Place Died: Fiesole, Florence, Tuscany, Italy

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Italian (culture or style), Italian Renaissance-Baroque styles, and Renaissance

    Career(s): art dealers


    Italian renaissance art scholar, dealer, and director, National Gallery, Dublin. Douglas was the son of Rev. Robert Douglas (1836-1912), Rector at Odell, Bedfordshire, England, and Annie Johnson (Douglas) (d. 1922). Douglas attended Oxford University concentrating in Modern History. Walter Pater and Charles Fairfax Murray inspired him to study art. He married Margaret Jane Cannon in 1891. While a chaplain for the Church of England in Italy, he wrote the text for a monograph on Fra Angelico, consulting with a number of scholars, including Bernard Berenson. He gave up his church appointment in 1900, accepting a position as professor of Modern History at the University of Adelaide, Australia. The Angelico monograph appeared in 1900. He divorced and returned to Italy in 1901 where his friends, prominent Italian scholars as well as the Zendadari-Chigi family, in whose palace Douglas stayed, assisted in his writing his book, A History of Siena, 1902. The same year he married Gwendolen Mary Henchman.  Douglas recommended Berenson, unbeknownst to Berenson, to the British art dealer Joseph Duveen (1869-1939), which began an long and ethically compromising relationship between the dealer and Berenson.

    Berenson increasingly saw Douglas as a rival in the field of Italian scholarship and felt his opinions had been unacknowledged in Douglas’s books. Berenson used an article Douglas published on Sassetta in the Burlington Magazine in 1903 to launch a major feud. Berenson published two rival articles on the artist the same year in the Burlington. This set in motion the rival camps of Italian scholarship among the English-speaking world, with Douglas and Sandford Arthur Strong pitted against Berenson, Roger Fry, and the other “consultative editors” of the Burlington Magazine. Beginning in 1903 ( through 1911) Douglas published a revised edition the first four volumes of A New History of Painting in Italy, the important work of Joseph Archer Crowe and G. B. Cavalcaselle. In 1904 he curated an exhibition of Sienese art at the Burlington Fine Arts Club at the suggestion of the collector Robert Henry Benson (1850-1929). At age 50, in 1914, Douglas enlisted in the British Army in order to fight in World War I. He rose from private to staff captain and a position with the War Office in London. He continued to deal in art during the war. In 1916 Douglas was appointed director of the National Gallery of Art, Dublin. When a disagreement with the trustees erupted in 1923, Douglas resigned. Douglas dealt in old master art during the 1920s, a time when the American newly-rich were anxious to acquire them. He sold major paintings to Otto H. Kahn and Philip Lehman. He divorced his second wife in 1927, marrying Jean Stewart, a former research assistant of his, the following year.  Douglas settled in New York in 1940, writing text for the Duveen art galleries. He continued to write articles in addition to the Burlington Magazine, Bryan’s Dictionary, Art in America, Art Quarterly and the Connoisseur. He was called as a witness on behalf of the art dealer Joseph Duveen in the lawsuit brought about by Mrs. Harry Hahn and her purported Leonardo, “La Belle Ferronniere” in 1929. In 1940 and 1941 Douglas lectured in the United States at Harvard and Princeton.

    He died in Fiesole, in 1951. His book collection was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in 1952. His widow re married Edward Fowles, head Duveen’s Paris branch and later heir to Duveen’s galleries. His daughter described him as “a sensualist, a spendthrift and an obstinate, angry and untactful man.”

    Douglas sale of masterworks to collectors and museums included J. Pierpont Morgan and John G. Johnson; the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (Giotto’s Dormition of the Virgin), Wilhelm Bode for the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Epiphany, Giotto) 1911, Julius Wernher in London (Albrecht Altdorfer’s Christ Taking Leave of his Mother), and facilitated sales of Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in Ecstasy and Gerard David’s Deposition to Henry Clay Frick. Douglas’ work as a scholar and dealer was admired by John Pope-Hennessy, whom Douglas encouraged to publish his work on Sassetta in 1939, which was built upon by Federico Zeri and Everett Fahy, Jr. Pope-Hennessy wrote that Douglas “attempted the first synthetic review of Sassetta’s career and reattributed to the painter several of his most important pictures, among them the now famous panel of The Mystic Marriage of St. Francis at Chantilly then attributed by Berenson to Sano di Pietro.”

    Selected Bibliography

    • Fra Angelico. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1900;
    • introduction. Exhibition of Pictures of the School of Siena and Examples of the Minor Arts of that City. London: the Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1904;
    • edited volumes 3 and 4, with Nicola, G. de, and Strong, S. Arthur. Crowe, Joseph Archer. A History of Painting in Italy, Umbria, Florence and Siena, from the Second to the Sixteenth Century. 2d edition. London: J. Murray, 1903-14;
    • Leonardo da Vinci: his Life and Pictures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944;
    • Piero di Cosimo. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946;
    • introduction, Certain Tragical Discourses of Bandello. London, D. Nutt, 1898;
    • A History of Siena. London: J. Murray, 1902;
    • “The Reconstruction of Dismembered Altarpieces: How Far is it Possible? How Far is it Desirable?” Art Quarterly (autumn, 1945): 281-295;
    • introduction. Locker-Lampson, Godfrey Tennyson Lampson. A Few Italian Pictures Collected by Godfrey Locker-Lampson. London: Chiswick press ltd., 1937;
    • Leonardo da Vinci: his “San Donato of Arezzo and the Tax Collector”. London: Chiswick Press, 1933;
    • The Art Reference Library Formed by the Late Robert Langton Douglas. New York: Parke-Bernet Galleries, 1952.


    • [obituary:] “Robert L. Douglas, British Art Expert.” New York Times August 16, 1951, p. 24;
    • Simpson, Colin. Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen. New York: Macmillan, 1986, p. 5;
    • Sutton, Denys. [series of issues devoted Douglas:] Apollo 109 (April 1979): 248-315, Apollo 109 (May 1979): 348-65, 367-83, Apollo 110 (June 1979): 439-46, 412-27, Apollo 110 (July 1979): 2-32, 35-41, 42-54, 55-61, and reprinted in book form as, Sutton, Denys. Robert Langton Douglas: Connoisseur of Art and Life. London: Apollo Magazine Ltd., 1979;
    • “On R. Langton Douglas.” Douglas, Claire, and [Reply] Pope-Hennessy, John. New York Review of Books 34, no. 12 (July 16, 1987);
    • Pope-Hennessy, John. Sassetta. London: Chatto & Windus, 1939, pp. 1-2;


    "Douglas, R. Langton." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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